Recognizing dealing with climate change as a priority, councillors have agreed to a vision statement that says “Niagara-on-the-Lake will demonstrate leadership and innovation to protect the community’s natural beauty, charm and heritage against impacts of climate change today and into the future.”
At Monday’s planning committee meeting, councillors also enthusiastically endorsed a corporate climate change adaptation plan, which in addition to the vision statement, includes municipal goals, prioritized actions, and continuing the planning process to battle the impacts of climate change.
Over the past two years, town staff and the town’s environmental advisory committee have been working with Brock University’s Environmental Sustainability Research Centre, along with six other Niagara municipalities, in a partnership called Niagara Adapts, looking at ways to protect against the impacts of climate change.
Victoria Steele and Rob Andrea, town representatives for Niagara Adapts, Kira Simone, on the town’s environmental advisory committee, and Dr. Jessica Blythe, a professor at the Brock University Environmental Sustainability Research Centre, were on hand at Monday’s virtual meeting to present the results of their discussions and recommendations to councillors.
“I think the work that has been done to date has been outstanding,” said Lord Mayor Betty Disero, following their presentation. The work and consultation with the public, the committee and staff have been amazing. This is an issue that is so important to our future.”
She urged everyone on staff, members of the public, “anybody’s who’s watching this,” to read the vision statement, and learn it.
“I could not have said it better myself,” she said. “It’s exactly what we should be looking for and doing in this town. I’m so thrilled with this report and the work that’s been done by the environmental advisory committee and the members of Niagara Adapts.”
CAO Marnie Cluckie explained the purpose of the presentation was to provide council with an update on the development of the corporate climate change adaption plan for the town, which she said represents “a significant effort towards the towan’s environmental sustainability efforts.”
The environment, she pointed out, is one of the pillars of the town’s strategic plan, and the town needs to develop smart, balanced growth, with priorities being economic development combined with environmental stewardship, integrated with the town’s decision-making process.
She said while municipalities are talking about the additional burden of the cost of dealing with climate change as it relates to infrastructure, they also have to look at the cost of not doing dealing with it — the town has seen climate change, warmer weather and the effects of both on infrastructure.
Steele explained the town will use a social media campaign for its climate change adaptation plan, to help educate and engage the community, and help it deal with climate change. “We strive to be a leader in climate change for the community.”
Blythe told councillors Niagara is experiencing flooding, heatwaves, and more variable climate extremes, with local municipalities identifying finding climate change solutions as key.
She said we see climate change impacting elementary school students, when blinds are closed and lights are off so kids can keep cool in their classrooms during a heat wave. We see it in the flooding of 2019, in increasingly strong winds, extreme weather events, and storm damage, and “we can expect the weather to become warmer wetter and wilder” into the future, she added.
Fortunately, “we know how to adapt to climate change.”
The Niagara Adapts partnership has held workshops and public events, and has researched vulnerability to the impact of climate change, she said.
Through those efforts the partnership has identified that municipalities want support with climate change data, they want guidance on how to use it for decision-making and planning, they want risk assessment, they want to know how to engage their communities, and how to protect their municipalities from climate change, she said.
Niagara municipalities want to be climate leaders, she added, and to build social and ecological resilience in their communities, taking advantage of opportunities to “grow, innovate and prosper in a changing climate.”
They also want a “robust, high-quality climate change plan,” she said, to increase climate awareness across the region, and to increase the capacity of communities to protect themselves against the impact of climate change.
Simone says a member of the town’s environmental advisory committee, says a survey conducted across the region, online and in-person, received more than 1,000 responses, 104 from NOTL residents, who shared their thoughts about local susceptibility to the impacts of climate change.
While 78 per cent of the NOTL respondents believe climate change is real, and many said they’ve experienced it, only 20 per cent feel the municipality is prepared to adapt to climate change.
After brainstorming with Niagara Adapts members, and evaluating potential actions from many different angles, the committee endorsed the Niagara Adapts report and submitted it to staff in September.
It highlights goals and actions, including minimizing health and safety risks, supporting public awareness and education, incorporating climate change in design and construction, building urban forest resilience, reducing flooding risks, and incorporating climate change into the town’s Official Plan, policies, bylaws and standards.
When asked about the cost of implementing climate change actions, Rob Andrea, from the town’s engineering department, said a budget has not yet been incorporated, but as each action is presented in future reports, the costs attached to it will be included.
He said staff will likely look at what can be done “for the quick wins,” and what needs to be done to implement the process moving forward, taking it back to the environmental advisory committee. As reports are presented, the costs will be shown “on a project-to-project basis.”
CAO Cluckie said she sees the process going forward as “a collaborative approach,” and that it will likely involve the community and council “at various checkpoints,” going back to staff, and returning to the community and council, “to make sure we’re on the right track.”
She agreed staff could identify low-cost quick wins, and for actions that are bigger, long-term projects, would look at grant opportunities.
Coun. Norm Arsenault, chair of the town’s environmental advisory committee, said members are now “fully engaged, and with this going forward, it has to encompass everything we do. I’m looking forward to continuing the work that has been started. I think what you’re going to get out of this is an exceptional plan for the future.”